Planning Ahead: How to Align E-Rate Spending with Your School’s Growth Plan

Forward planning can be hard, but trust us, it’s worth it.

For many school administrators, the scenario is a familiar one: your schedule is filled to the brim with back-to-back meetings, hallway and lunch duty, a parent call or two, not to mention the after-school event planned for later that evening. Needless to say, forward planning can be difficult when you’re also charged with executing a successful educational program each day. 

With that said, forward planning can greatly alleviate the burdens associated with day-to-day school. By looking ahead to the next quarter, semester, or school year, school leaders can work with their teams to mitigate the “house on fire” mentality that often leads to rash, haphazard decision-making that doesn’t serve the unique mission of your school.

Successfully navigating the E-rate process is a prime example of how forward planning can support your unique mission, enabling your school to make the most of its educational technology dollars to enhance daily instruction. 

Aligning your planned E-rate spend to your growth plan can save your school money.

Taking the time to align your E-rate spending with your school’s long-term growth plan can yield tremendous benefits for your operating budget. By leveraging federal dollars to improve your school’s internal connections, purchase additional Chromebooks, or procure the latest instructional technology platform, you can free up funds elsewhere for other educational priorities. 

This process is especially important for schools planning to increase their enrollment or add a new site to their existing facility portfolio. Rather than paying for costly wireless installations, additional student or staff devices, and other classroom hardware out of pocket, schools can devote the majority of their E-rate funds to such expenses, remaining fiscally responsible in the midst of an otherwise costly expansion. 

Align your use of erate funds with your school growth plan.

Work with your E-rate consultant to support forward planning over each funding cycle.

It’s here when determining when and how to spend your E-rate funds that working with an experienced E-rate consultant is most effective. As we’ve written previously, the hallmarks of an effective E-rate consultant include an eye for long-term planning, knowledge of new trends in educational technology, ability to identify gaps in your existing technology programming, and, perhaps more than any other trait, and thorough knowledge of the E-rate funding rules and processes themselves. 

Sitting down with this individual to clearly map your planned spending over a given funding cycle can ensure you make the most of every dollar. For example, for schools planning to add a new site in 2-3 years, it may make sense to save a certain percentage of a given year’s funds until the expansion occurs. Far from rushing to spend all of your funds for a given year, then, an effective E-rate consultant can help your school think strategically about where and how to most efficiently devote each dollar. 

Leverage new E-rate funding rules to add certainty to your budgeting process.

The FCC’s new rules governing E-rate funding cycles can also be used to add certainty to an otherwise nebulous budgeting process. Rather than tying annual funding increases to inflation, schools’ allocations are now set for a five-year period, beginning in 2021. While adjustments can still be made to account for increases in enrollment, this change allows schools to more accurately forecast the exact dollar amount they can expect from E-rate in a given year in advance. 

Armed with this information, school leaders should ideally work with their E-rate consultant to create robust five-year plans for educational technology, aligning each funding cycle to any existing growth plans or instructional design shifts. This process, in turn, allows school leaders to accurately gauge the funds not designated for educational technology that are therefore available for other spending priorities. 

Speak with your E-rate provider to stay up-to-date on the latest educational technology trends.

Even if your school doesn’t have an enrollment increase or expansion on the horizon, taking the time to thoughtfully map your E-rate spending can help you make the most of the latest trends in educational technology. 

For instance, if your existing internal connections are somewhat unstable or prone to outages, replacing them with identical hardware this year may not make sense if a particular upgrade is on the horizon. By working with your E-rate consultant, you can make more effective decisions on how best to address your school’s gaps in educational technology, when considered in the context of the broader educational technology ecosystem.

At CTS, we work in concert with our schools to proactively identify these trends and prepare our clients for the latest changes in educational technology, ensuring you and your students make the most of your E-rate funds to support your unique mission. Far from a passive service provider, we view ourselves as deeply ingrained in the work of our school communities.

Contact us today to learn more about our E-rate services and how we’ve already helped more than 60 schools make the most of their annual funds.